A Stitch In Time
I’ve long thought of myself as an honest person. A trustworthy person. A capable person. But upon further reflection and in the recent inspection of some old things from my childhood, I’ve come to the realization that I am a fraud.
You see, I never should have passed Home Economics in 10th Grade. Our education system was clearly lacking even back in the 1980s when parents didn’t have to pay extra for afterschool Driver’s Ed, back when there were five foreign language options in public schools and the government still held out hope that our generation would ensure the metric system’s inevitability in America.
For me, Home Ec was a waste of time. But my mother insisted that I take it. “It will be so handy when you become a housewife,” she suggested, which I found appalling. No way was I going to let my talents go to waste like she did.
My mother was gifted with the vacuum cleaner. We always had a dog or two and it seemed like her mission in life was to free our carpets of their hair. Maybe she learned that in Home Ec, but the only cooking she seemed to have learned was the casserole. When mom wasn’t on a health food kick, we lived on tuna casseroles and stroganoff. When she was on a health food kick, we’d have tuna casserole with wheat germ sprinkled on top instead of cornflakes. And bran muffins. Rock hard bran muffins. I have a visceral reaction to bran to this day.
In Home Ec, I learned to hard boil eggs and make meatloaf, which didn’t really change the course of our family’s culinary journey.
My mother wasn’t much of a seamstress either, but she regularly mended our pants with patches, and when I was a flower girl in her best friend’s wedding, she promised to make a dress that looked just like the one Aunt Lois suggested we purchase from the Sears catalog. She made it. It didn’t. In Home Ec, I avoided the sewing machines like I had been avoiding needles and thread for years.
Several years earlier, I had earned a sewing patch in Girl Scouts. I had a sash full of patches, but those bastards were a bitch to sew, thick with a clear, gluey backing like a modern day iron-on patch, only they weren’t. Poking a needle through that shit hurt. With dozens of patches, I appeared to be the epitome of scouting success, dedicated to the arts of cooking, camping, dancing, painting, ice skating, baby sitting and archery. I may have dabbled in all those things, but I never became skilled at any of them. My sash is heavy. It jingles with dozens of safety pins, including the pinned on patch I’d received for sewing.
I was a fraud. But what I wanted was to be fashionable. I quit Girl Scouts in part because the green uniforms just weren’t stylish. I was obsessed with the fashion forward looks in my bible, Seventeen Magazine. But I could never achieve the looks I wanted on my meager budget and clearly I couldn’t make them with my limited sewing skills and nor could my mother.
“Where did you get those?” mom demanded. I was about to leave for Junior High and I was looking as fashionable as one can when most of their clothes are off-brand sale items. I’d pulled together a decent-looking pink and green preppy ensemble with a kelly green sweater strategically wrapped over my shoulders to hide the JC Penney lizard where the Izod alligator should be. S and L stickpins held the sweater into place. And they were what mom was looking at.
I had begged for those stick pins when we were in The Limited the week before. Mom had refused. So I covertly placed my initials into the pocket of my not-jordache jeans.
I was never a good liar. My upper lip quivered, giving away my transgression. Mom forced me to take off the stickpins and leave them on the kitchen table. After school, she dragged me to the Cary Towne Center and compelled me to tell the cashier at the Limited what I had done. With palms sweating, I handed over the tiny pins and admitted the error of my ways as Mom stood behind me smugly enacting judgment like the Great and Powerful OZ.
“Not a big deal,” said the teenage clerk nonchalantly, chomping on her gum.
Mom was furious as I placed the pins on the counter.
“We’d like to talk to the manager,” demanded my mother. The girl behind the counter with the thick blue eye liner rolled her eyes and shook her wildly crimped hair, tied on top with a scrunchy. She picked up the phone, mumbled into it, then turned to my mother, “She’s at lunch. She’ll be back in half an hour.”
My sister was squirming in her stroller. Mom paced the racks of corduroys, culottes and neon accent pieces. My sister began to cry and mom, exasperated, grabbed my arm and stormed out of the store. We flew through the mall as mom fumed and I was thinking SAVED BY MY SISTER! SAVED BY THE CLERK!
That is until 15 minutes later when we pulled into the parking lot of St Michael's. Mom marched me up to the confessional, opened the door and pushed me in for actual saving.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been a month since my last confession. Do you remember? I accidentally dropped my baby sister when I was reaching for the phone? She’s fine, though. I don’t think I gave her brain damage. Oh and I hid my mushy peas in my napkin and, well I am a thief. I pretend to be something that I’m not. I want to be cool and fashionable and own things that I don’t have the money for. If I could sew, I’d design my own darned designer clothes but I can’t. I want to be honest and capable, but I’m not. I’m 14-years-old and I hate my mother for not caring about the things that matter to me.”
I was assigned my act of contrition. I said my prayers, but I kept on coveting. And to this day I often use safety pins instead of needle and thread.
# # #
As shared at Story Salon 5/24/23